The Organization of Solidarity. Investigating External State Building in Postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina through the Disciplinary Lenses of Administrative Sciences and Sociocultural Anthropology (PhD)

Thesis committee: Prof. Dr. hc. Rainer Pitschas, Prof. Dr. hc. Klaus König (both German University of Administrative Sciences, Speyer/Germany), Prof. Dr. Tatjana Thelen (University of Vienna/Austria)

Funding: DAAD-research grant, Marie-Curie Soc-Anth fellowship

Project description:

This PhD project – carried out at the German University of Administrative Sciences in Speyer, Germany – had a twofold aim: Firstly, to contribute to theoretical and practical understanding of the effects of external state building on structures of solidarity (or exclusion) in Bosnia-Herzegovina – a South-eastern European post-conflict society, which emerged as an independent and multi-ethnic state out of the Yugoslav conflicts of the early 1990ies. And secondly, to develop a transdisciplinary approach to questions of governance in post-conflict societies, which rests on a reflexive combination of administrative sciences and sociocultural anthropology. Below, an outline of the thesis is presented.

In an introductionary theoretical discussion, I integrate conceptual approaches from administrative sciences and sociocultural anthropology into a heuristic frame built around the bridging concept of ‘organization of solidarity’. I thereby provide an alternative conceptual ground (to the currently dominant policy and research paradigm of ‘external state building”) from which to study processes of integration of state and society in postwar societies which find themselves entangled in post-Cold War, globalized but asymmetrical networks of governance. As the result of a methodological discussion of the need for qualitative empirical research into these global-local processes, I develop a case-study method consisting of two stages which draws on empirical research approaches in administrative sciences and ethnography. This case study method combines a macro-oriented analysis of policy processes with micro-oriented situational analyses of face-to-face interactions taking place in the framework of local city government.

Mostar’s reconstructed Old Bridge spanning the river Neretva. The reconstruction of the bridge which was destroyed during the violent conflict in the city in 1993 has become one of the most well-known but also highly contested symbols of a past and future multi-ethnic community in BiH.

Empirical data was collected during fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork (conducted between 2004 and 2007) in the town of Mostar, which remains ethno-nationally divided into a Croat dominated western and a Bosniak dominated eastern part. My fieldwork and subsequent analysis focused on the interactions and relations between three groups of actors: members of the international community, city councilors and employees of the city administration, and citizens of Mostar.

As part of the micro-analysis of local post-war government in Mostar, I show how citizens and street level bureaucrats negotiate belonging to the Bosnian state and deservingness for public resources (such as housing support for internally displaced persons) in personalized encounters. They do so by interweaving folk taxonomies (in which ethno-national belonging is but one among a number of possible categorizations) with bureaucratic classifications, thereby creating a localized, situated, contingent and flexible sense of community (naši ljudi).

A local community/neighbourhood office. This surviving element of the former system of socialist self-management still provides for a point of contact between citizens and the city administration. Recently, this institution has been rediscovered by international organizations in their efforts to promote local democracy and enhance citizens’ participation. It offers the anthropologist an ideal entry point into exploring the various meanings attributed to local government and the uses – in material as well as symbolic/ideological terms – made of these offices.

An extended analysis of the internationally driven process of reorganizing the city administration and (re-)appointing civil servants and employees to newly integrated administrative units in order to overcome the ethno-national division of the city brings to light the relevance of personal ties within the city administration’s staff. Building and maintaining personal ties to colleagues, superiors and political functionaries is of central importance to employees and civil servants seeking to keep their job in an environment of postwar uncertainty and socioeconomic insecurity. I demonstrate how changes in the staff’s value orientations – that were intended to flow from the transfer and implementation of models of rational and efficient bureaucracy – hinge on the interplay between the relational work performed by civil servants/employees and specific organizational forms provided by the reform process. A Weberian inspired hierarchical department structure in the context of a consociational power sharing arrangement for local self-government can reinforce clientelistic networks based on shared ethno-national orientation, while ad-hoc working groups or project teams whose members were recruited horizontally through personal networks can initiate the re-articulation of (socialist) bureaucratic values and lead to the formulation of a shared professional ethos.

Finally, I explore the International Community’s state building project ethnographically by tracing the discourses and practices of the members of the Mostar Implementation Unit (a temporary subdivision of the Office of the High Representative, BiH’s international interim administration). I analyze how actors in this international street level, field office, who are charged with the task of implementing the city’s new statute to overcome Mostar’s division, navigate between the need to remain a detached neutral arbitrator and the necessity to become involved in the ongoing local political decision-making processes. My analysis reveals that international field officers construct a frame of reference resting on a double differentiation. In order to bolster the organizations foundational claim to neutrality they differentiate between ‘international’ and ‘local’ and inscribe this difference into daily work practices and interactions with their local co-workers. This separates them from local social worlds (with which they then interact with the help of their local co-workers as interlocutors) but also allows them to maintain a second framework of interpretation for the ‘local’ reality which foregrounds conflictual ethno-national difference between Croats and Bosniaks. While by no means claiming that ethno-national identifications are not relevant for the inhabitants of Mostar, my analysis shows how such a frame of reference promotes a process of decision-making based on repeated negotiations with ethno-nationally defined leaders and in the long run contributes to the reproduction and entrenchment of local ethno-nationalist political elites rather than advancing sustainable structures of participatory local self-government.

A session of the municipal council in which decisions to implement the city’s new statute are taken. Here, the consociational power-sharing script is played out and played upon by elected councilors representing ethno-nationally defined interests while being observed and counseled by members of the Mostar Implementation Unit

Taken together, these findings illustrate the added value of an ethnographic approach for (re-)conceptualizing external intervention with the aim of state-building in post-conflict societies. The two-tiered case method permits to grasp the interrelated configurations of social order and statehood that emerge from actors’ situated social practices as well as their accompanying attempts of giving meaning to these social worlds in the making. It allows to relate these micro-level processes to a larger structural frame of postwar intervention and the paradoxes of globalized governance. Acknowledging the contingent, emergent and mutually dependent nature of social order and statehood also opens a space to critically examine the contingency of normatively oriented theoretical models of statehood in nation-state based administrative sciences itself. A transdisciplinary perspective is achieved by continuously and reflexively relating normatively oriented academic models and the ethnographic insights on their practical application to each other during the research process.



2019. State-Building-Prozesse in Bosnien Herzegowina. Eine Verwaltungsethnographie. Baden-Baden, Nomos.

2014. Contingent statehood: clientelism and civic engagement as relational modalities in contemporary Bosnia and Herzegovina. Social Analysis 58(3): 20–37 (republished in: Stategraphy: Toward a Relational Anthropology of the State, edited by Tatjana Thelen, Larissa Vetters & Keebet von Benda-Beckmann, Berghahn Press: New York, 2017, 20-37).

2008. Reflections on "the field": local community offices in Mostar as sites for investigating state-society relations in a post-conflict country. In: Vassilis Nitsiakos, Ioannis Manos, Georgios Agelopoulos, and Aliki Angelidou (eds.). Balkan border crossings: first annual of the Konitsa summer school. Berlin [et al.]: LIT, pp. 460–471.

2007. The power of administrative categories: emerging notions of citizenship in the divided town of Mostar. Ethnopolitics 6(2): 187–209.

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